Grand Prix Bochum - How to play Magic too well
Written by derflippi on November 28, 2012
I am a competitive player. I travel to European Grand Prix (GP) to play the game and see the world. But then I am also a Casual player: when Magic gets boring, becomes unfun I play it less. As such if there is a tournament that might get boring, I skip that tournament. Luckily, enough friends made clear in advance to go there as group. This group promised to make GP Bochum a great event regardless of the main event. As DCI Area (level 2) judge, I see multiple situations from another perspective: competitive grinder and judge. Sometimes it helps: I know how rules work. And sometimes I feel morality stops me from going that one step further, competitively: I know how rules work too well.
In this article, I will cover a few ideas I have about the current Standard(T2) format, as played at the GP, several interesting judging calls of the event and a more detailed report of the exciting public event I played during day 2 of the weekend
1. Standard(T2) and disqualifications
Whenever possible, I play decks with Fog in Standard(T2). I mean: If your opponent can't get through to your lifetotal ever, how is he supposed to beat you? Now that we have settled that Fogdecks don't lose to classic threats: creatures, ever, it's irrelevant HOW they win. That one-of Eldrazi or that Elixir of Immortality to avoid losing to the own decksize are sufficient. The main opponent is the clock but with just enough carddraw that problem can be minimized (or by winning game 1). Unfortunately with M12 having rotated out of the format the deck strategy lacks a solid constant card drawing engine and I have to look for something else to play in Bochum. Rites of Flourishing is no longer legal.
Looking through the recent winning decklists of magic-league, I noticed one common trait within. Standard(T2) decks of today win with big spells: Thragtusk, Sphinx's Revelation, Bonfire of the Damned and Planeswalkers are common. With RDW gaining popularity, Centaur Healer got much more popular too. This made me want to build a deck with 4 Rewinds and at least 3 Restoration Angels. I believe a counter-heavy deck is well positioned in that metagame as it should beat the midrange strategies (Bant, Jund, ..) and have an improved mirrormatch against other control variants.
In the end, having added even more Jace, Architect of Thought and Sphinxs Revelation last-minute, I played this decklist in Bochum:
In comparison to other decklists, I play only 24 lands ( + the 25th in Sideboard). In matchups where I am dependant on playing a land every turn, I can cycle Azorius Charm and/or Think Twice early. Against aggressive decks, I need the 25th land to not miss landdrops because I have to use the Azorius Charm as removal and most likely board out the Think Twice. Getting up to 4 lands is not sufficient against aggressive decks because you really need that Sphinxs Revelation for 3 on turn 6.
The matches at the tournament turned out pretty linear in their decisionpoints: I win he matches I expected to win and I lose the matches I expected to lose: 5-3 with wins against Bant, Reanimator and Uwr and losses against Zombies, GW Aggro and RDW. As expected, the Standard(T2) format is mainly matchup dependant. When two different decks are paired against each other, it's likely that the outcome of the match follows a certain probability. Know the metagame and you can break the lotto probability. Don't be up to date as I am and you won't get far into the tournament.
Looking back I should've played Augur of Bolas instead of Dramatic Rescue in the Sideboard. It supports my plan better. Dramatic Rescue is better in more tempo-oriented decks (UW Flash) with more aggressions but not in my defensive control shell. From a judge's perspective, there occured two noteworthy situations at the event that got my awareness.
It is UW Control(player A) against Jund (player B). The Jund player (B) exiled all win options from A's deck: Jace, Architect of Thought and Elixir of Immortality with Slaughter Games. A has less cards in his library than B has, but controls a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage Emblem. The clock ticks.
In timely manner, A casts Sphinx's Revelation with x=0. Then he casts Negate on the Sphinx's Revelation. Thanks to the Emblem, he gets both cards back to his hand. He then decides to cast Sphinx's Revelation again, still without playing slowly. The Head Judge disqualifies A for Cheating – Stalling. Here's the definition of Stalling as written in the Infraction Procedure Guide(IPG):
IPG 5.1 A player intentionally plays slowly in order to take advantage of the time limit. If the slow play is not intentional, please refer to Tournament Error — Slow Play instead. [..]
Did A play slowly?
Well, not that obvious. However, the IPG isn't meant to be read like a technical document (like the Comprehensive Rules (CR)); something like playing spells that do nothing to advance the game state, even if the actions are taken quickly, can still be "playing slowly in order to take advantage of the time limit". The intent of his actions was solely to run down the clock. And this is by definition Cheating – Stalling. What bugs me here is that A is a known pro player who I think should be aware of what's legal and what isn't. On the other hand, I think the definition of Stalling in the IPG can be improved to something in the lines: "Stalling is the intentional act of taking advantage of a time limit." Then it's clear (common sense) what's Stalling and what isn't. In any case: don't do this at home.
Another situation occured in my own match at the GP the same way it occured to me while playing Standard(T2) online trial some days ago. I control a planeswalker (say Jace, Architect of Thought). There's basically two ways to reduce the locality of an opponents' planeswalker: the easy one is combat damage. The theoretically more complicated option is via non-combat damage: If non-combat damage you control would be dealt to an opponent, you may have it be dealt to a planeswalker that player controls instead. This is a replacement effect that applies during resolution of the effect dealing the damage. The common way to 'ping' a planeswalker is to simply target it directly: "Bolt your Jace!". The technically safe way is to target the player, then upon reoslution redirect it:" Bolt you, redirect to Jace!". Online and in Bochum, my opponents used the common way. Online, I replied "Jace is not a valid target for Searing Spear, please chose a legal target." to which my unknowing upponent targetted me and Jace survived. This situation felt shady at the time so I consulted with several judges before and during the Grand Prix event. I got the most convincing answer from a swiss Regional Judge (DCI Level 3):
"In the MTR (Magic Tournament Rules, 4.2), it's an officially defined legal shortcut to allow announcements like "Bolt your Jace". Since the MTR are a document that apply to competitive REL, players are expected to know about this shortcut. Now intentionally trying to bend the rules, the MTR, in order to gain advantage is Cheating – Fraud."
And here's the referenced part of the MTR:
MTR 4.2 [..] A player who chooses a planeswalker as the target of a spell or ability that would deal damage is assumed to be targeting the planeswalker’s controller and redirecting the damage on resolution. The player must adhere to that choice unless an opponent responds. [..]
Trying to keep your planeswalker alive that way felt wrong the whole time, but only because that "trick" is Cheating the MTR, I had enough reason to simply put my Jace to my graveyard at the Grand Prix when my opponent targetted it with Searing Spear announcing "Spear your Jace".
The difference between this situation and the borderline-legal answers of "the Murder of Crows situation" from my GP Madrid report is that the planeswalker shortcut is explicitely stated in an official document while the Murder of Crows incident requires more interpretation of the rules (by the HJ).
2. Team Sealed Trios
2a, Team Sealed Trios in general and its deckbuilding process
In Team Sealed Trios, a team of 3 players form a team. Each team receives 12 booster packs and builds 3 decks out of the complete pool. We approach that deckbuilding this way: Each player epicks a random color and analyzes it by himself. He then presents the color to the remaining team members, emphasizing weaknesses and strength of that color. The important questions are: What does this color need to annul its weaknesses? How does this certain color want to win its matches?
The hybrid cards of Return to Ravnica make this approach to Team Sealed deckbuilding a bit less effective because some strong hybrid/multicolored strategy core can be left overlooked more easily. But then it's an efficient way to find finish deckbuilding within the deckbuilding time limit.
I picked the color black and discovered 2 Daggerdrome Imp would make a nice Golgari core, but the manacurve was still not convincing. It especially lacked good 3 and 4 drops. Green presented by another team partner filled the gap pretty well so we locked our GB as Golgari cards for now.
After that, we looked at red, then blue to discover a number of 3 Doorkeeper, 2 Lobber Crew and 3 Frostburn Weird as exceptional defensive for Izzet. 2 Guttersnip and 3 Goblin Electomancers with countless playable Instants would be the game plan of the Izzet deck.
What was left is the color white with Azorius and Selesnya cards. That turns out to be the possibly strongest collection of cards in our pool.
Overall, we build the following decks:
Although Doorkeeper fits very well into the defensive strategy, we didn't add it to the deck. It's kind of win-more in matchups were 4 toughness wins and we wanted more options than the not that inevitable milling plan. Additionally, the deck lacked answers to high-mana (power>3) threats so we decide to provide it with answers to that possible weakness instead. Doorkeepers don't add any further value to the deck. The white splash wasn't there until a different deck had its construction finished:
Great spoilers, countless populate interaction looks like the strongest deck. At the time of deckbuilding, we did not put much more thought into the deck as it was easily built. It didn't need any further (blue) splash to get better. It is good enough already.
I wanted to play Ogre Jailbreaker over Golgari Longlegs but got outvoted by my team members. We put both Aerie Predations and Giant Spiders here because 3 Eyes in the Skies and the overall strength of the Selesnya deck would be enough defense for the other green deck. Also, we had the idea that Selesnya would not need to use its Sideboard in any case.
A quick loss of Izzet and Selesnya and Izzet drawing the next match later.
We came to the conclusion that Selesnya loses to Hypersonic Dragon and manascrew while Golgari is actually the best of our decks. The only (yet pretty cool) way to deal with those Hypersonic Dragons for Selesnya: First enchant it with Knightly Valor, then exile it with Selesnya Charm.
2b, Communication in Team Trios
A few matchwins later, I had realized a few more things that make Team Sealed so different. In Team Sealed any team member may communicate with the other team members at any time, in any language. This allows us to provide each other with information we would normally not have.
Let's say we see players A and B have a Mountain on the battlefield. Player B then plays a second Mountain and casts Annihilating Fire. This makes it more probable that A faces an opponent who just splashes red. Say he also has a Swamp and a Forest, then it's likely he plays Golgari and not Rakdos, splashing R for some worthy spells: Augur Spree, Rakdos Return, but no RR-spells: Annihilating Fire, Street Spasm.
The other peculiarity in Team Sealed is that it is important to keep attention to how players shuffle. It is common practice to shuffle a deck facing to the left or to the right (neighbours). That way you ensure neither you nor your opponent are able to identify the position of a card in the deck. A problem occurs when your neighbour is your teammate! In the later rounds, words had spread and everyone shuffled the decks facing to the table side instead to their teammates so it didn't become a problem.
Although Team Sealed is pretty much a Casual event, the size and prize payout warrant the Rules Enforcement Level (REL) Competitive. In competitive events, I play hard; and try to gain any possible and legal advantage.
Here's the situation: I sit in position C. The pair A vs. A already started and its matchup is an Izzet mirrormatch. I look at the opening hand of Sewer Shambler, Sluiceway Scorpion and 5 appropriate lands. Do you keep this hand? If you play against black, I think it's keepable. Against anything non-black, it's a horrible hand. If I just had a way to find out what my opponent plays...
Unfortunately, pair B vs. B is not done with mulligans yet. I ask my teammate B for advice. He tells me: "Look at your opponent; does he look like he plays Black? Yes he does!", so I decided to keep the hand. Some players might have the idea to simply wait a bit until both of pair B have made their turn 1 and turn 2 plays. With the information gained that way (what lands they play) I would be able to make a tactically better decision; but is it allowed?
It's not Stalling: The intent of the action is the same even if there is no time limit. It could be interpreted as Slowplay, but the penalty for Slowplay at REL Competitive is just a Warning. However, deliberately committing an infraction (Slowplay) qualifies as Cheating – Fraud, so better don't wait for your teammate. In the end my opponent did indeed play the Golgari deck. He had removal for the Sewer Shambler and I deserved to lose the match onehanded. Wins of my team members made the overall result of this match a 2-1, a win, so my own loss doesn't have any weight.
2c, Decision point
In round 6, my teammate in seat B encounters a difficult and memorable situation:
You just animated Selesnya Keyrune and are now attacking with 5 3/3 creatures. Your opponent blocked the Selesnya Keyrune with his 3/2 Hellhole Flailer and you have priority.
The decision to do now is binary: Either you cast Common Bond targetting two different Centaur tokens, or you just pass priority. That's your only two options. What do you decide?
As a reminder, here's the common and uncommon removal spells he might have in RtR Sealed in his colors: Augur Spree, Launch Party, Annihilating Fire, Explosive Impact, Ultimate Price, Street Spasm and Traitorous Instinct.
Intuitively, you wait for the obvious play of your opponent: He will sacrifice Hellhole Flailer before damage one can assume. The question is if he will do so when he's passed priority. If he has nothing in hand, he will clearly sacrifice the Flailer. The need of a
drawstep to win is not comparable with the option of winning without new cards. In that case, casting Common Bond right away wins too.
If he passes priority back, he drops to two life and you cast Centaur Healer to be safe from Augur Spree and Annihilating Fire. If he does something other than sacrificing Flailer or passing priority back (like cast any removal spell), you'll win regardless as he won't have that removal (damage) spell next turn to kill you. Even if it's an Ultimate Price, you'll certainly win with Centaur Healer life buffer.
The alternative is you cast Common Bond instead of passing priority. If your opponent has nothing, he loses immediatly. If your opponent has something, he will cast it in order to survive this turn. He will be left with some life points and one removal less in his hand. You won't be able to cast Centaur Healer post-combat but at the same time are in less danger because he just cast his removal spell.
Do you cast Common Bond right away or pass priority, in hopes to get a reaction of the opponent to which you can respond yourself with Common Bond?
Usually, it is better to play around/play with just a single removal spell of the opponent rather than try to play around two of those. In this situation, you lose to double-removal in any case!. Therefore it is no use to try to play around what you lose to regardless.
This makes it the right play to not pass priority and cast the Common Bond right away. It loses to double-removal, but the alternate decision paths do so too.
The opponent will sacrifice his Hellhole Flailer only in case he has nothing or just Ultimate Price. In these cases, you win using Common Bond regardless of when you cast it.
Overall, I think the correct decision here is to cast Common Bond right away although several other semi-professional and professional players don't share this idea. The main idea why passing priority is the better choice among their opinions is that by sacrificing the Flailer the opponent can win next turn and therefore he will do it. At the time we had to make that decision, we passed priority, cast Centaur Healer afterwards and lost to Street Spasm that way.
Reviewing the situation today, it amazes me how many aspects we didn't grasp back then. The opinion that casting Common Bond right away might be biased by me now (afterall, I saw what the opponent actually had), but it is a much more complex decision than just binary. Several assumptions and decision paths could make a matrix of at least the size 13 x 4 variables.. But the math proving one decision dominates the other behind this scenario isn't the point of this article. Too much of probability and game theory would need to be explained first.
In the next match, the last match of the tournament, we're paired against a team that, as we find out while we play game 1 received the pool which we registered. We are safe to assume this because of the rares they play and noteable uncommons they present. I am against Azorius which tells me he has 5 Hussar Patrol and 3 Voidwielder in his deck (or pool) as well as 2 Dramatic Rescue. With the information, I decide for a special sideboard plan. The problem against him is Hussar Patrol dominating my Stonefare Crocodile and the countless bounce cards neglect the strength of the creation of a "pokemon" (that's small creatures enhanced again and again, for example with Auras or here: Scavenge). A change is required and I look through the sideboard for options.
I take out most Scavenge cards: Bounce dominates too much. I also cut Stonefare Crododile. Hussar Patrol and Voidwielder block it too well so their effect isn't big to the strategy anymore. Without the number of Scavenge cards, Daggerdrone Imp, first powerhouse of the deck also has to leave.
In return, I add Batterhorn and Ogre Jailbreaker, a Towering Indrik and the Aerial Predations. Axebane Guardian but not Rakdos Keyrune (just 3/1 < 2/4 ˄ 1/4) would support the new manabase. I didn't see any artifacts, yet I am willing to splash red for a 4/3. The reason is this: Hussar Patrol/Voidwielder dominate the previous setting and Batterhorn and other "big vanillas" win against his deck. The deck is slower, that's true. But it doesn't matter. Instead of Scavenge grinding the opponent, simply bigger creatures shall do it now. The plan worked, our team finished 5-1-1 overall for a 6th place. Among all decks, the Selesnya deck had the worst result. We build it wrong. While Knightly Valor, Trostani's Judgement and Centaur's Accord are the better cards in a vacuum, the combination of all 3 makes a curve too high. The better option would be to maindeck more 2 drops: the 3rd Concordia Pegasus and one Keening Apparition instead.
We split the prizes so I got the German Unlimited Booster Pack and the other shared the Sealed pool and Return to Ravnica Booster packs
Looking back at the weekend, starting with the Fun Fun Foil Friday Sealed, followed by a day of Standard(T2) and a great Team Sealed Trios, having filled time between rounds with Tichu, it was a great weekend. I didn't win any prizes of much value, but I certainly won (once again) a very valuable amount of experiences. Even during the typing of this article, I gained new insight into DQ-philosophies and strategic decisions in Standard(T2) and Limited. In my next article, most likely dealing with the Limited GP in Lisbon, Portugal on December 1st /2nd, I will tell you what was in the one prize Booster pack and what we actually decided in the Common Bond situation.
Although I'm sure I didn't play perfect in the Standard(T2) portion of the weekend, I believe that Limited formats provide a much more inapprensible strategic depth than Constructed formats. I am not saying that you don't need to be able to play Magic to win in Constructed. I just think that always making the correct decisions gets you farther in Limited than in Constructed. That's the reason why always the same people win your local FNM or Top8 the PTQ, our Sealed Trials and Masters, not continous luck.
by derflippi on 2012-11-28 20:18 CET
by Burton911 on 2012-11-28 20:39 CET
The DQ picture is naughty
by magicrichi on 2012-11-28 20:53 CET
Good article, as always.
by Mizukage on 2012-11-29 01:15 CET
Flippi is my hero.
by sandoiche on 2012-11-29 02:09 CET
Incredible article Flippi :)
by StarWolf on 2012-11-29 03:43 CET
"Stalling is the intentional act of taking advantage of a time limit."
by moscowdemon on 2012-11-29 06:16 CET
There is a huge difference between playing a slow, controlling deck and actively not progressing the board state to waste time.
by Steveman on 2012-11-29 06:28 CET
How to play Magic "well"
by Burton911 on 2012-11-29 11:52 CET
@StarWolf: there is a rule that you have to make all decisions as if there is no time limit.
by StarWolf on 2012-11-29 19:29 CET
"There is a huge difference between playing a slow, controlling deck and actively not progressing the board state to waste time."
by Dinosaurrr on 2012-11-30 01:13 CET
How many cards in deck for opp?
by CChildress on 2012-11-30 05:24 CET
Casting common bond shouldn't be a difficult decision. Why would you pass priority when you have the opportunity to win the game? At worst he plays a removal spell and cant sac flailer leaving the other card in his hand or the card he draws to deal 3 more.
by on 2012-11-30 20:14 CET
I feel like I would have not activated the keyrune, cast the common bond on the Flailer activating its unleash and a centaur, that way if he does have a punishing fire he has to use it, and we get to cast healer.
by Stunseed on 2012-12-02 11:59 CET
@StarWolf I'd call that a violation of the spirit of the game. Also the reason more casual players hate competitive players.
by derflippi on 2012-12-04 12:35 CET
tfunk: in that case he will simply take 13 and go to 1 life, then kill you.
by Terri on 2012-12-05 01:53 CET
he wouldnt kill you unless he has a way to deal 3 damage. but anyway it wouldve been best to activate keyrune cast common bond on the flailer and a centaur.
by llamatron2 on 2012-12-19 16:34 CET
Great Article. Although I'm a bit late to the party and skipped over the comments section I will still offer my advice on the Common-Bond play.
by ody on 2012-12-25 15:54 CET
CMA-Flippi: He wouldn't be able to block the keyrune so he would take 16 dmg
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